Sharing Water Bowls & Kennel Cough

by Catherine Troiano
Kennel cough is airborne, but it can contaminate bowls and toys.

Kennel cough is airborne, but it can contaminate bowls and toys.

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If your dog is greeting you with a hacking, dry cough that sounds like he is trying to clear his throat, he may have kennel cough. Canine kennel cough is highly contagious between dogs, and that harsh cough usually presents within two days to two weeks after exposure to an infected dog. Kennel cough is a type of bronchial infection caused by any of several different viral and bacterial organisms. While sharing feeding bowls can transmit the condition through surface contact, the primary route of transmission for kennel cough is much harder to control.

Dwell Together, Cough Together

Kennel cough is typically contracted in facilities where a large number of dogs are housed in close proximity to one another and where there is warm air or poor air ventilation. Such locations include boarding kennels, dog parks, animal hospital waiting areas, grooming parlors, vaccination clinics, group obedience classes and pet shops that sell a high turnover of puppies. Kennel cough is highly contagious. If one dog in a facility has a kennel cough infection, the other dogs can contract the illness. The incubation period for kennel cough is two to 14 days. Once the coughing begins, the illness lasts for a week or two. Dogs who have been infected with kennel cough will continue to shed the bordetella organism, one of the classic organisms to cause kennel cough, for two to three months after recovery.

The Consequence of Inhaling

When an infected dog coughs, the infectious organisms are expelled as respiratory secretions, which aerosolize and become airborne for healthy dogs to inhale. This is similar to the manner in which human catch colds, especially in communal settings like offices, schools and households. Once the aerosolized organisms are inhaled, they adhere to the lining of your dog’s upper airway passages to fester and affect the cells of those lining tissues, prompting your dog to cough. This airborne primary route of transmission is the reason for the high incidences of kennel cough that arise in crowded or poorly ventilated facilities. When one infected dog starts coughing, all of the other dogs are subsequently at risk with each breath they take, even if they are housed in separate cages or runs.

Transmission Through Direct Contact

In situations where multiple dogs directly interact with one another, kennel cough can be transmitted from shared food bowls, water bowls, toys and bedding. This means that if you have two dogs your home, one of which is infected with kennel cough, the other dog can contract the illness when he takes a drink from their shared water bowl. If you are treating one of your dogs for kennel cough, your other dog will likely contract the illness, even if you are diligent about keeping the dogs separated and scrubbing their bowls out frequently. Your healthy dog can contract the illness through casual contact with the other, such as by licking the sick dog’s face or rubbing noses.

Prevention for Your Canine Companion

Various viral and bacterial organisms can cause kennel cough; infection can result from either a single organism or a combination of them. One of the common culprits is the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica. A specific vaccine prevents kennel cough caused by bordetella, and your dog’s core vaccine protects against adenovirus, parainfluenza and distemper, three other organisms that can cause kennel cough. Together, the core and bordetella vaccines provide an effective level of protection against four of the common causative organisms. Since additional organisms can cause kennel cough, your dog is still not completely protected against the illness.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

Not all dogs are placed in situations where they will come into contact with other dogs. If your dog does not board, frolic in dog parks or partake in spa days at a grooming parlor, then the bordetella vaccine is not necessarily part of your dog’s regular vaccination protocol. Most boarding facilities require all incoming dogs to receive the vaccine two weeks prior to the scheduled boarding event. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s lifestyle and activities to determine if the bordetella vaccination is right for your furry friend. If your dog is coughing, be sure to have him evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out other causes and make a kennel cough diagnosis. Most cases of kennel cough resolve quickly with symptomatic treatment.

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